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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Our Weekend in the Amalfi Coast

I thought about breaking this part of our road trip down into several posts, but the truth is if I do that I'm going to be talking about our summer adventures deep into winter (thanks to my procrastination, of course). Instead, I've decided to just do a big hefty post on our weekend in the Amalfi Coast.

After we visited Florence (which I'm not actually writing about since we did much of the same things we did on our first time in Florence), we made our way back to Rome. We spent one day resting and taking care of some housekeeping (read: washing clothes from nine days on the road) then we hit the road again and headed south to Naples and the Amalfi Coast. I have yet to write about our two times in Naples because honestly I'm still trying to figure out what to make of that complicated city (all I know is that there is nothing in the world like Neapolitan pizza... nothing). 

We stayed at an agriturismo near the actual Amalfi Coast, which boasts a very central location to many of Campania's star attractions like Pompeii, Naples, and all of the towns of the Amalfi Coast. On our first day there, we went to go see the Amalfi Coast's most famous town: Positano. 

Here's what you need to know about Positano: it was a medieval port that suffered through a declining period, then became an extremely popular tourist attraction from the 1950s onward, when John Steinbeck wrote an article about it in Harper's Bazaar. It's been in several films, like Under the Tuscan Sun, and most importantly: it's incredibly beautiful. 

Jaime & I on the Amalfi port waiting for the boat to take us to Positano. 

"I'm on a boat" selfie!
We arrived in Positano by boat, which we took from the actual village of Amalfi. According to our agriturismo host, it was much cheaper to park in Amalfi than in Positano. This might have been true if we weren't four people, as we had to pay for four kinda pricey boat tickets. That's just the price we had to pay to see one of Italy's most expensive coastlines. 

The best part of coming in by boat is that the view is unparalleled. 

One of the things I wanted to do in Positano was buy pre-made sandals at La Botteguccia (here's a video by Browsing Italy showing you how it's done) as Positano is known for sandal-making. There are lots of different places to buy them from, but they usually have roughly the same prices and the same models. It's not exactly cheap (mine were about €45), but if you're like me and buying sandals is always a hassle because of too-skinny feet, it is definitely worth it. 

After my shopping was done, we decided to hit the beach. There are two beaches in Positano: Spiaggia Grande which is the one you see when you're coming in by boat, and the smaller Spiaggia Fornillo. We chose the latter assuming it would be less crowded. It was a little bit of a trek to get there and unfortunately the weather was not cooperating with us (it was super windy, cloudy, and it eventually rained on us while we waited for the return boat). 

The Amalfi Coast is made up of quite a few villages staring with Positano in the west and ending with Vietri sul Mare in the east. With only two days to explore, we obviously would not be able to see it all, so the next day we decided on visiting Ravello. Jaime decided on Ravello that day and I have to admit I was quite surprised. Ravello is known for two villas: Villa Rufolo and Villa Cimbrone. I didn't expect the gardens to be quite as beautiful as they were and I certainly didn't expect that we'd be allowed to take Arya with us. In the end, I'm glad we decided to go there as the views were magnificent and we had a great time. 

The boys mocking us. 

The Terrace of the Infinite in Villa Cimbrone. 

A silly pose that actually came out awesome with my dress blowing in the wind!

Hydrangeas: one of my favorites in Villa Cimbrone!

We took the long way back to Rome (it might also have been the only way), driving through the famous Amalfi Coast highway that hugs the coastline and gives you amazing views of all the towns. It's one of National Geographic's 500 Drives of a Lifetime! It's also known for being terrifying and dangerous as it's a two way highway that is super narrow and always filled with tour buses. 

Arya loves it when she's in the passenger seat on a road trip!

View of the town of Amalfi. 

No photoshop, the water was just that blue!

No idea what this church's name was, but it was very pretty. 
That's all for our weekend in the Amalfi Coast and my last post on our awesome Summer road trip with Carolina and Joaquin!

For other posts on our summer roadtrip, check out:

Treasure Tromp

Monday, October 13, 2014

Photo Diary of Pisa

We've been to Pisa two times and for some reason I haven't blogged about it. The first time was back in March the weekend we went to Viareggio's Carnevale and the second time was during our summer road trip, one the way to Florence from Cinque Terre. The real reason is simply that it was really....not a bid deal. *cue the angry outbursts*. I really hesitate when I'm writing this blog to proclaim something boring or disappointing, specially in reference to Italy. People usually have some very strong feelings about this country for some reason, whether they've been to it or not, and you simply do not get away with calling one of Italy's most well-known landmarks "no big deal."

But I've decided to conquer my fears of being attacked by a mob and tell you the way I really felt about Pisa. To me, it has been a place to stop on the way to another destination, not the destination itself. By all means, if you just need to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa and take wacky pictures with it, then make it a stop on your trip to Italy, but really that's the only thing there is to do there.

All that being said, one thing that has stood out on our trips to Pisa has been this super cute little sandwich place not too far from the Leaning Tower called L'Ostellino. The two times we've gone has been around lunchtime and these €5 sandwiches hit the spot. All fresh ingredients, about 10 pages of different ham and cheese combinations and some good ol' Tuscan wine to wash it all down. The only downside is that it's a very tiny place so there's not much room to sit down, especially if you come at peak hours. If you're looking for a cheap lunch in Pisa, this is the place to go to (you can find it on Yelp or TripAdvisor)!

The Leaning Tower of Pisa, in Italian called La Torre Pendente di Pisa is the bell tower of the cathedral of Pisa, which as most people know, is unintentionally tilted to one side due to the lack of adequate foundation. It is a UNESCO site, part of Pisa's Piazza del Duomo along with the baptistry and the Camposanto Monumentale (the cemetery), and the Cathedral itself.

Here are some of the pictures we took that day, as well as a panoramic shot I had saved from the first time we visited in back in March.

iPhone Panoramic from a rainy day in March. 

Obviously we had to have some fun with this.


Thankfully, the second time we went the weather was much more agreeable. 

Thanks for reading!

If you want to see more of our Summer Road Trip, check out:

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Tips for Visiting Cinque Terre, PLUS Cinque Terre Sunset Pictures!

They say Italians are not the best at being on time, but I beg to differ. There's one aspect about Italy that is usually very on time and that is the weather. Last week while we were staying in the little town of Lerici on the Italian Riviera, there was beautiful summer beach weather right up to October 1st. That morning, the dark clouds came rolling in, the temperature dropped at least 20 degrees and the weather said, "I gave you guys September, but now it's time to finally pack up those swimsuits and bring on the jackets!"

Autumn is now in full swing with noticeably cooler temperatures (great news for our no-AC house) and Italians dressed up in their boots and marshmallow jackets. We're finally back in Rome and that means I'm back to blogging comfortably from our home office with no Jaime breathing down my neck about wanting the computer :). Just kidding, I love him.

Even though fall is here, I'm not quite ready to stop dreaming about our amazing summer in Italy. So today, I'll be continuing our summer road trip to Italy with our last day in Cinque Terre. I hope you guys aren't too tired about reading this because these are my favorite pictures of the whole weekend!

The last village we visited was the southernmost village of Riomaggiore. For me, Riomaggiore tied with Manarola for picturesque-ness (nice word, huh?). When we exited the train station, we were almost immediately welcomed by the main road that leads directly to the bay, where people were swimming. We walked around a little bit, ate lunch, snapped a few pictures, and then decided to quickly go back to the hotel and change into our bathing suits to take advantage of the sun and the water.

How cute was this sign? Notice "Chemist's Shop" is the pharmacy. 

Before we switched to our bathing suits 
We spent the afternoon laying on the rocks and swimming (well, Jaime, Carolina & Joaquin were swimming, I was tanning and going camera trigger-happy). I could've spent days taking pictures of this village, it was that beautiful.

He loves me. 
We were looking good!

We stayed until sunset, and that's when I could've died and gone to heaven. The sun sets to the left of the village if you're looking at it from the rocks, illuminating the edges of the colorful houses. If you're going to take pictures, you definitely need to know some technical settings on the camera to get the perfect shot.


One of my favorites Joaquin took of me with his iPhone. 
We had a blast taking pictures, while another couple had dinner and drank wine a few rocks away from us (Carolina and I were swooning at the guy's romantic gestures).

Jaime's Camera shot. 

Cute selfie. Jaime's look of concentration is hilarious.
I definitely recommend visiting Cinque Terre if you're planning a trip to Italy during the summer. Here are also a few things we learned (and we could've done better) on our weekend in Cinque Terre:

1. Where to Stay. Plan in advance. By in advance, I mean like at least 6 months before, especially if you're planning a trip overseas. By the time we were looking to book a place to stay, most of the decently priced Home Away apartments in Cinque Terre were booked, so we had to stay in La Spezia, a small city near Riomaggiore. While taking a train into Cinque Terre was no big deal (it was only a 10 minute trip to Riomaggiore), La Spezia is not the first picture you want in your memory of Cinque Terre. Plus, our hotel was horrible, but that's another story. Our advice is to stay in Cinque Terre, even if it's a little more expensive. It's nicer and you'll probably end up making up the difference in travel fare in the long run.

2. Transportation. Cinque Terre is a National Park, so you cannot drive inside each of the villages. However, you can drive to each village and park outside, which we did on our last day. Depending on the time of year you're going and the number of people in your family it might just be cheaper to do that then buy the Cinque Terre card that gives you unlimited train access to the villages.

3. Cinque Terre Card. A note on the Cinque Terre card: for access to just the hiking trails, the card costs 7.50€ for one day and 14.50€ for two days (adult fare). For that plus unlimited train access between the villages (and La Spezia) it's 12€ for one day and 23€ for two days. You can see that it's not exactly cheap. If you're not planning on hiking the trails (especially since about half the main hiking trail has been closed due to the storms that battered the villages in 2011), it's almost not worth it to buy the card and just pay for individual train tickets. Like I said, you need to do a thorough cost estimation of what you're going to need for your specific situation. On our part, we bought the Cinque Terre card thinking that we might do the hiking trails and we ended up not using them except for the train, so we barely broke even.

4. Relax and have fun! There's not a ton of things to do in Cinque Terre except soak up the sun, eat some good food, and drink some amazing wine. And that's okay! You're not wasting your vacation if you don't spend every moment of it standing in some line to get into some museum. You're still seeing first hand a piece of Italy that cannot be replicated anywhere in the world!

Thanks for reading and if you like any of the pictures, don't forget to pin them for travel inspiration! I'll also post up more pictures of Cinque Terre on My Napoleon Complex's Facebook page.

If you want to read past posts about our Summer Road trip through Italy, check out: 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Taking Great Family Vacation Photos: An Ode to my Photographer

Today's post I've been meaning to write for a very long time now just because it's so fun. In fact, I might just make a series out of it. Everyone sees our travel pictures all over social media, but what most people don't get to see is the struggle to take these amazing photographs. When I started my blog, I knew I was a very visual person. While content is definitely important, pictures are what attract me to most of my favorite blogs. Luckily for me, I had the picture part covered from day 1 on my blog because I have Jaime.

As you may know if you've read my About page, Jaime takes most of the pictures you see on this blog, with the exception of iPhone pictures. He always finds the right angles, knows the right settings, and herds us all into position like sheep when we take group shots. Today is his birthday and this post is dedicated to him not only for being a great husband but also for taking the charge of documenting the entire family's most important moments.

Sometime during our NYC trip last year, I realized I could get some pretty funny pictures of Jaime taking pictures of me or setting up the camera to take pictures of us. This is how this idea of a behind-the-scenes post series was born.

For the last year, I've collected a good amount of pictures of all the things we've done in pursuit of the perfect picture. For Jaime's birthday, I decided it would be a great time to finally share the pictures you don't see on my regular blog posts. Happy birthday, Jaime (since I ruined the your real birthday present surprise, I hope you enjoy this little surprise instead).

Without further ado, going behind the scenes of My Napoleon Complex's blog:

From Left to Right, Top to Bottom:
1. Jaime & Joaquin taking a picture of Carolina at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington D.C. (2013)
2. Taking a picture of the Capitol at sunset from the middle of the road. (2013)
3. Taking a picture of me in Williamsburg, VA. I was on some kind of pedestal. (2013)
4. Setting up the camera to take an HDR picture of Thomas Jefferson's house, Monticello in VA. (2013)
5. Taking a picture of Venice from San Giorgio Maggiore. (2014)
6. Taking a picture of me at the Vatican Museum with the crowds getting in our way. (2013)
7. Taking a picture of the Tuscan countryside. (2014)
8. Taking a picture of JFK's grave in Arlington Cemetery, VA. (2013)
9. Taking a picture of a garden in Cordoba, Spain. (2014)

Taking the perfect shot of Manarola, Cinque Terre. (2014)
One of my favorites and the beginning of this obsession. Taking a picture of taxis in NYC. He went for three consecutive red lights trying to get the perfect shot. (2013)
1. Taking a picture of his parents in front of Tidal Basin, Washington D.C. (2013)
2. Getting an HDR picture of my best friend, Lauren, and I in the Lincoln Memorial (2013)
3. Taking a picture of my stepbrother holding the Washington Monument in the palm of his hand (2013)
4. Taking a picture of David. (2014)
5. Taking pictures of Arya for her doggie passport. You can imagine how long this took. (2013)
6. Taking a picture of me in front of the Capitol. (2013)
Sunset picture of Castel Sant'Angelo and St. Peter's.
Not sure what he was trying to get a picture of in this one to be honest. 

1. Taking a picture of the World War II Memorial Fountain and the Washington Monument. (2013)
2. Taking a picture of St. Peter's before the Christmas tree was removed while under the pouring rain. (2014)
3. Setting up the camera to take a picture of us in Cordoba, Spain. (2014)
4. Taking a picture of the Alhambra, Spain. (2014)

1. Taking pictures of Marines in front of the Marine Memorial. (2013)
2. Setting up camp at Top of the Rock in NYC to get the perfect blue hour picture of the Empire State building. (2013)
3. Taking a picture of the Empire State. We were there for two hours! (2013)
4. Taking an HDR picture of us at the Lincoln Memorial. (2013)
5. Blue hour picture of Vernazza, Cinque Terre. (2013)
6. Picture of a picture. (2013)
7. Taking a picture of us in Turin. (2013)
8. Walking around NYC in a hurry before blue hour! (2013)
9. Setting up for the iconic (at least to me it is) picture of us in front of the Colosseum. (2013)
One of my favorites: holding up the line at the Knights of Malta to get a picture of St. Peter's through the keyhole. (2013)

I'd also like to take the time to share some of my tips on taking great family vacation photos (or any special occasion photos). I am no expert, in fact for anything remotely technical about picture-taking you'd have to ask Jaime. He's not a professional by any means, but photography is his hobby and he's gotten very good at it throughout the years. Along the way, I've also picked up a few very basic, very beginner tips on how to take better pictures.

Disclaimer: Once again, I am not an expert, this is just some of the things we do that works for us. 

1. Camera. A few years ago I would have said, eh, a camera is a camera. Well, it's not. We primarily use a Canon EOS Rebel T3, but we also have one of those cute little point-and-shoot Canon PowerShots that we take when we need a water-proof camera. I hate this camera. No matter what settings you use, pictures don't come out anywhere near the vicinity of our bigger Canon. If you want proof, check out my post on the dog beach near Rome from last year.

2. Learn your camera. Buying an expensive camera is only half the battle though. It does you absolutely no good if you have it on Automatic all the time. Jaime wasn't born knowing all the settings on his camera, he just took the time to read through the instructions manual at the very least, and a few web tutorials wouldn't hurt either. After, start practicing!

3. Tripod. Or, in Italian, cavaletto. This is our biggest secret with the greatest impact on our photography. How many times have you been somewhere and you ask someone to take a picture of you and, no matter how much the person tries, the picture just kinda...sucks? Well, solve your problems with a tripod. Sure, you have to carry it with you and set it up every single time you want a group picture, but I promise you, you will be so much happier with your pictures because you took the time to center it just how you wanted it.

4. Patience. I like taking pictures and I like having quality pictures after the suitcases are unpacked and our day to day life continues. So, most of the time, it's no big deal for me to wait two hours for exactly the perfect moment to take a sunset picture, or wake up at an ungodly hour to get a sunrise picture, or spend 15 minutes standing in front of a tripod to get the perfect shot of Arya actually looking at the camera (all of this are things we do on a regular basis). But I've also traveled with people that have no interest in taking photographs, but then lament themselves when they have nothing to look at after they go back home. You just need to be patient because when you start taking good pictures, you have no idea how you ever lived without them before.

5. Research. Finally, this is something that I do mostly and I don't know if other people do it too. Before we leave for our next destination, I go on Flickr or other blogs to see some of the best places from where to take pictures. There's been quite a few times when we've found places that we might not have known about with a great view. Google is your friend, use it.

I hope you've enjoyed this post and gotten a few tips out of it, hopefully you won't be as embarrassed about being those annoying tourists taking forever to get a picture, as it's more than obvious we do it all the time (and I have no regrets about it). To Jaime: hope you liked this long-time-coming post, the only thing that's a surprise on your birthday. I love you!